NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Monday said he was ready to call lawmakers back to Nashville for a special legislative session following a historic vote of no confidence in Speaker Glen Casada over a series of scandals engulfing him.
However, the embattled Republican has thus far rejected mounting pressure to step aside.
“I’m disappointed in the results... .,” Casada said in a statement after the caucus vote, unprecedented in the modern era of Tennessee politics. “However, I will work the next few months to regain the confidence of my colleagues so we can continue to build on the historic conservative accomplishments of this legislative session.”
Casada has been dogged by calls to resign since it was revealed he exchanged text messages containing sexually explicit language about women with his former chief of staff several years ago, among other controversies. In brushing aside calls to step down, the embattled official has said he has changed and released an action plan designed to build trust among his peers.
After an hours-long meeting that was closed to the public, Republicans cast a 45-24 secret ballot vote approving the no confidence resolution Monday afternoon, according to House GOP Majority Leader William Lamberth.
“I can’t imagine a stronger stance that they could have taken today than for 45 members of this speaker’s own caucus to indicate that, because of the allegations ... that they no longer have confidence in him,” Lamberth said.
He said he was officially requesting the governor call a special session so lawmakers could elect a new House speaker.
Lee quickly responded to that call by releasing a statement, saying Republican lawmakers “sent a clear message, and I’m prepared to call a special session if the Speaker doesn’t resign.”
Lee has said that if Casada worked for his administration or his company, he would ask Casada to resign.
Typically the General Assembly meets during what is called a “regular session,” or during the first few months of the year. Yet the governor can call state lawmakers back to the Capitol as long as he issues a proclamation and outlines the issues that must be addressed in an estimated amount of time. While Tennessee has seen multiple sessions throughout its history, it’s still considered a rare political move.
But it remained unclear whether lawmakers have the ability to remove a speaker. The Tennessee Constitution is silent on that and legal scholars have warned that while the Legislature can expel members, it’s unknown if they have the power to elect a new speaker before the end of their two-year terms.
“The speaker is elected by the General Assembly and not by the Republican caucus,” said Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton. “So this is a non-binding resolution, anything that the caucus did would be non-binding as far as the speaker remaining speaker.”
Casada’s promises haven’t won over critics in the GOP-dominant House ever since the scandal erupted earlier this month, when reports emerged about misogynistic text exchanges with Casada and his former chief of staff Cade Cothren.
The scandal also includes reports of possible evidence tampering with a young black activist’s criminal case, Cothren admitting to using cocaine in his legislative office years before becoming Casada’s top aide and accusations of Casada spying on legislative members, among other matters.
Cothren ultimately resigned soon after the release of years-old racist texts and the sexually explicit messages.
And last week, Republican Rep. Mike Carter accused Casada of trying to “rig and predetermine” an ethics review regarding his controversies.
Aside from Cothren’s cocaine use and the text messages, Casada has largely denied the swarm of allegations facing him.
After the House GOP caucus vote, state Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden joined the growing calls for Casada to step aside as speaker, saying the no-confidence resolution sends a “clear message.” He said “it is time for the Speaker to heed the advice of the majority of his fellow legislators and step down from his position of leadership and allow someone else to begin ... restoring the trust of all Tennesseans.”
Also Monday, Republican Senate Speaker Randy McNally reiterated his call to remove Casada, adding the House Republican caucus has spoken “clearly and distinctly.”
“I am hopeful Speaker Casada will put the legislature, the party and the state first,” McNally said.
Casada took office in January. He received 47 secret ballot votes out of 73 Republicans in the 99-member chamber to become speaker-elect in November. Then the majority leader, he defeated Reps. Curtis Johnson of Clarksville and David Hawk of Greeneville.